By Sgt. Amanda Hay
| | August 22, 2000
RECRUITING STATION NEW JERSEY --
Before joining the Marine Corps, Mark Hart was so close to becoming a professional street skateboarder that he could smell the money.
Seven years later, the Marine sergeant said regardless of the money, becoming a Marine was the best choice he has ever made.
"My life wouldn't be where it is today. I love skating, but the Marine Corps has helped me become the person I am today. I think it's great that I found a career which has helped give me a strong foundation for life."
The 26-year-old canvassing recruiter at Recruiting Substation Central Jersey still skates several times a week. He thrives off the fact that people are shocked that he's a Marine and a serious skater.
"It's like two totally different images; Marines are thought of as having complete structure and discipline, and skaters are known for having the most leisure, kick-back attitude."
Regardless of these perceptions both have been great contributors to Hart's life.
At the age of 12, the Phoenix, Az., native got his first skateboard. It started out as just something to do to pass time, but the more he skated, the more he loved it.
"I found my niche. It was something that came natural to me, I was good at it and it was fun."
By the age of 15, Hart skated for a local shop and had several sponsors from skateboard equipment companies. He was participating in competitions and having the time of his life.
Although he didn't get paid a salary, he received many perks. They paid his entry fees, and he received clothes, sneakers, boards and equipment.
"Skateboarding wasn't just a hobby, it became part of who I was," Hart said.
Just when things seemed to be going perfect for him, he moved to Northern California where skating wasn't as popular. Yet he eventually met his friend John who liked skating just as much as he did. For two years, the pair practically lived on the streets skateboarding. They built up their reputations and eventually were sponsored.
However, big changes were ahead. One day, scouts from a large company came out to see them skate. After several conversations, John purposely avoided Hart so he could get sponsored.
Hart became bitter and discouraged. He put his skateboard in the closet and chose to join the Marine Corps. Yet while stationed in Okinawa, Japan, the urge to skate came back.
"I felt totally satisfied with the way my life was going-being a Marine, doing my job and going new places. But I felt something was missing."
Hart was a little behind with the new tricks but after some practice it felt just like the old days. Lessons learned from the Corps also helped Hart become a better, more focused skater.
"There is a time for frustration and a time for concentration. You have to learn to separate the two. It has taught me to control my emotions and refocus in a positive way."
Since he's been on recruiting duty for the past two-and-a-half years, he hasn't had all the time he'd like to skate. However, he is sponsored by the local shop, and teaches classes twice a month at a local skate park. The shop is also in the process of making Hart his own board. It'll be called "Sergeant Mark" and 15 are on order already.
"Everyone calls me that. The name is fitting because when I meet people at the skate park I'm Mark, but when I'm in the schools they know me as Sergeant."
Being a semi-pro skater is not something he publicizes either. The newspapers may take pictures or write articles about him, but it's not something he talks about. The recognition he's received though, has been helpful to him at the high schools he recruits from.
As far as trying to go pro in the future, Hart said due to his age it's questionable.
"It's different now. I have my wife to think about. If I have one good injury, I'm done."
Eventually, he plans on working in the skateboard industry by opening a skate park or shop.